Tech+ Mail­bag: How to stop an­noy­ing au­to­play au­dio and video and what the in­ter­net and ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try is do­ing about it

The Denver Post - - TECH KNOW - By Ta­mara Chuang

Q : While view­ing email, un­in­vited au­dio com­mer­cials un­ex­pect­edly in­ter­fere. How can I pre­vent these un­in­vited au­dios? — El­lis barker, Ar­vada, CO

Tech+: Yes, that is su­per an­noy­ing. If I want to watch a video, just give me the op­tion to hit “play.”

Auto-play videos used to be eas­ier to avoid be­cause many sites used Adobe’s Flash tech­nol­ogy. Dis­abling Flash meant videos won’t play un­less you man­u­ally turn the player on.

But sneaky ads con­stantly get through, thanks to de­mand from com­pa­nies hop­ing to make a dime or more off vis­i­tors in ex­change for some­thing that is usu­ally free (in­clud­ing The Den­ver Post — it’s one way to help us pay the bills).

Of course, the op­po­site also is true. Tech­nol­ogy helps ad­ver­tis­ers get past ad block­ers, but then ad block­ers re­vamp, re­vise and come out with new ways to block un­wanted mes­sages again.

The free and pop­u­lar AdBlock Plus, for ex­am­ple, blocks many ads for Chrome, Fire­fox, In­ter­net Ex­plorer, An­droid and other browsers.

But since 2011, it’s also taken the tac­tic to al­low “ac­cept­able ads,” which the com­pany says en­cour­ages the in­dus­try to de­velop less an­noy­ing, less ob­tru­sive ads since ev­ery­body knows that the whole point of ad­ver­tis­ing is for some­one to make money. Not ac­cept­able? “Au­to­play-sound or video ads,” are ads that would be blocked.

AdBlock Plus, how­ever, does al­low users to opt out of all ads. De­tails are at ad­block­plus.org/en/ac­cept­ableads#optout

The lat­est trend is try­ing to find a mid­dle ground be­tween con­sumers and the ad­ver­tis­ers and com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing the of­ten free con­tent. The Coali­tion for Bet­ter Ads, for ex­am­ple, is study­ing dis­rup­tive ads that leave a poor user ex­pe­ri­ence.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion stud­ied what ads would not be ac­cept­able to con­sumers and some re­sults in­clude auto-play video ads with sound, flash­ing an­i­mated ads and large ads that are dif­fi­cult for a user to exit out of.

We haven’t found a happy com­pro­mise but com­pa­nies like Google, a mem­ber of the Coali­tion, is work­ing on in­te­grat­ing an ad-blocker to its Chrome browser that would fil­ter out ads deemed an­noy­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to a Wall Street Journal story, Google’s in­ter­est is to “quell fur­ther growth of block­ing tools,” some of which charge users a fee. There’s also a huge fi­nan­cial rea­son. Google gen­er­ated $60 bil­lion in rev­enue from on­line ad­ver­tis­ing in 2016, so if its clients’ ads are get­ting blocked by third-party ad block­ers, they’ll go else­where.

That said, there are a plethora of other third-party ad block­ers. The best way to find one that fits you is to open your in­ter­net browser and look for the add-ons or ex­ten­sions. These are typ­i­cally “stores” within the browser that let you down­load new tools for the spe­cific browser.

•Google’s Chrome Web store (go to ex­ten­sions)

•Fire­fox: Type “about:ad­dons” in the search bar

•In­ter­net Ex­plorer: Go to the In­ter­net Ex­plorer Gallery at mi­crosoft.com/en-us/ie­gallery

•Ap­ple is adding auto-play block­ing soft­ware with its up­com­ing Mac OS High Sierra op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

A few oth­ers that come to mind:

•With more sites drop­ping Adobe Flash’s video player in fa­vor of HTML5 tech­nol­ogy, there are now HTML5 au­to­play block­ers like Dis­able HTML5. The de­vel­oper of this Chrome ex­ten­sion re­cently stopped up­dat­ing the soft­ware in June be­cause he feels Google is now work­ing on it. But it still works.

•In­stead of search­ing for an ad blocker, try soft­ware that blocks track­ing, like Abine. It of­fers a se­ries of on­line se­cu­rity tools, in­clud­ing the an­ti­tracker Blur to help web users stop ad­ver­tis­ers from track­ing their searches.

And then for non­browser au­to­play:

•To dis­able auto-play videos in Face­book, go to your user set­tings, find “Videos” and turn off the “Auto-Play Videos” fea­ture.

•For email users, con­sider go­ing with an al­ter­na­tive free email ser­vice if you don’t want to see video ads. Looks like Ya­hoo mail, for ex­am­ple, won’t let you dis­able auto-play videos, but you can use a third­party ad blocker.

I have no idea if we’ll ever find a good com­pro­mise on ad­ver­tis­ing and con­tent. But as con­sumer frus­tra­tion builds, some of the big­gest com­pa­nies ap­pear to be lis­ten­ing. So keep it up. If you’ve got a sug­ges­tion for El­lis, leave a com­ment on the story at dpo.st/2uokSo4. Or send me an email.

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